Bob Flower’s Memories of Radcliffe

Part 16

I am sure none of us thought we were in for the long haul. It seems we have one situation after another with all these variants and changing presentation of this awful virus.
Here we go again with another glance into Radcliffe’s ‘steamy’ past (in the nicest possible way).
To compliment the wonderful History Society’s details of the railway I will tell you a little more about the LNER Railway station, Colwick and the railway sidings at Radcliffe and the close relationship our village had with all three! (Note LNER, that’s important!)
Our station was a prominent village amenity in the early years and was far more used then than now. It was a clean attractive building with Walter Todd, the main porter (photograph left). The platform was swept clean with edges regularly whitewashed with a ‘ninety degree’ brush (that’s baffled you!) The flower beds and hanging baskets were kept neat and tidy. The booking office was always staffed. It had small cardboard tickets neatly stacked in special clip racks ready for passengers purchase with a date stamp machine into which they were inserted. Tickets were then passed through a little dome shaped hole in a glass panel. In winter a cheery fire blazed in the warm downside and ladies waiting rooms.
The sidings, where now houses are built, were used for waggons of coal for the local coal merchants Mr Charlton and Mr Hemingray (my pal John’s Dad). They unloaded and weighed the coal straight into hundredweight bags on the lorry ready for delivery round the village. Bag of coal, delivered five bob! (25p)
A Churchman’s ’fag’ machine was fixed to the outside wall. Insertion of a penny (1d) the push of a button delivered one large cigarette in a square box to go and smoke on Bridge Field over the road. Sadly it never made me feel sick, mores the pity!
To cross the line a metal ‘Mechano’ like bridge spanned the line to join up and down platforms. It was removed as unsafe much later, in 1977 I think.
The down platform was always full of passengers on a weekdays mornings for the 8.05am train to Nottm Victoria stopping at Colwick & Netherfield, Nottm. High Level, (Island Street, London Rd.) and Victoria Station. No one complained or grumbled about the train being rarely was! Stood on the platform looking toward Bingham you could see the smoke and steam as the engine came down Saxondale incline. She stopped, every time, (railway engines are all ladies you know!) just short of the road bridge puffing, panting and emitting steam and hot water (as if grateful for the rest) from various pipes and holes! Porter Walter Todd shouted ‘Radcliffe…Radcliffe on Trent’! Then, after about a minute to load everyone through the heavy carriage doors which were then slammed shut, a wave of the guards (perhaps my Dad) green flag, the driver releases the steam brake, tugs on the engine regulator handle, smoke and steam belches out of the chimney under the Shelford Road bridge and off we go toward Netherfield and Colwick. Many Radcliffe folk worked at Colwick and Netherfield factories like William Lawrence, high class furniture, Petits, cricket bat makers, Bournes Textiles and of course the railway yard.
The other platform, on the up-line took you to exotic places like Bingham, Aslockton, Bottesford, Sedgebrook and even, wait for it…Skegness! Dad, as railway employee, had a family privilege ticket. He could take the four of us, Mum brother and me to ‘Skeggy’ for nowt! Loaded with cake, sandwiches and flasks of tea we caught the 10.00am direct train in the morning, to breathe the sea air a few hours later! (take big sniffs says Mum, it’s free!). Back to Radcliffe, tired out, on the 6.00pm return train. Glorious happy carefree days.
Another very important use of the station was that of the pigeon fanciers of course. I have spoken of these at length before. Gathering in the waiting room collecting their racing time clocks with baskets full of pigeons outside ready for loading on to the train for whatever destination, sometimes as far as Scotland. It was fun but really serious. A very fast racing pigeon could be worth a fortune of course.
Very many Radcliffe people were closely associated with the railway, my family particularly. Dad was a very proud guard. His polished boots shone as did his cap peak and black leather bag. Two furled up flags, green and red, sat on top the bag with his ‘fog detonators’ inside. His lamp always fascinated me. It was a round and brass. Not shiny but black. A small round container filled with paraffin soaked a wick which, when trimmed and lit supplied the light in front of a glass reflector. There were three coloured lenses which rotated on a screen inside, red, green and white. Colours were changed by a flick of the wrist depending on the need indicated to the train driver. It will perhaps interest you to know that most of the lighting on the railways, other than the trains, was paraffin lamp or gas! The signal lamps at Radcliffe were paraffin and permanently lit. The station lights and waiting room lights were gas. A gentle soft romantic light at night glowing in the waiting room and no, I won’t elaborate, it’s unwise whilst you are all locked down!
I occasionally went to the engine sheds at Colwick with my brother and was amazed to see that the underside of engines were inspected by an oil lamp, like the one the genie uses with an open flame on a spout. We had electric inspection lamps at that time. I asked, why not get modern. Electric lights don’t flicker to show invisible super-heated steam escapes, Bob, was the answer!
When an awful ‘pea souper’ fog happened a phone call caused Dad to sign on for fogging duties, often in the small hours. Explosive lead detonators were clipped to the line which exploded very loud when the engine ran over them to warn the driver of a stop or caution signal which he could not see.
My brother Norman and I were chalk and cheese! He disliked school and concentrated on becoming an engine driver! He sat for hours at the back of Harrisons Mill watching the trains go up and down. He started at Colwick yard as an engine cleaner, then a fireman, then a driver. It took about seven years to become a driver in those days. He had to pass exams to progress which is where I helped him. I attended Sunday morning driver training sessions with him to understand the intimate workings of a steam engine. I think I know more about the Walschaerts and Joys valve gear, (steam flow control systems) connecting rods, superheated steam, combustion properties than any other non-railway man anywhere!
It was all successful because he finished up driving main line steam, then diesel, expresses to London Paddington and the Queens special train to Midland station when she visited the City!
There were of course many other people worked for the LNER. Mr Gibson, Forman platelayer, my Uncle Fred Flower, timekeeper and Uncle Sam, platelayer. Laurie Bainbridge, Phil Stafford in the offices and many more. Steam engines were serviced and repaired at Colwick of course.
Just a final word about the huge contribution the railways made to the war effort. Coal was the main cargo in the East Midlands but ironstone, munitions and fuel were also transported. Coal trains would be made up on the inclines at Colwick yard by the very skilled shunters. Perhaps eighty or ninety twenty ton waggons to a train depending on the engine power. They would leave the yard, pass Rectory signal box, over the River Trent viaduct and on toward Saxondale up incline. All day and night every day. How many times have I laid in bed at night listening to them struggle to pull such huge heavy loads. Lines were often wet and greasy which caused the engine wheels to slip. The engine regulator had to be shut down very quickly when the wheels were spinning frantically to stop the engine shaking herself to pieces. Sand was sometimes sprayed on the line to help the wheels to grip. Many times a pilot engine from the yard had to give them a push to get them going! The waggons were loose coupled of course, they would clink, clink as the buffers connected then came apart. I have sat on Radcliffe station many times and seen the skill of the engine men working with this pulling battle going on.
Finally, down the side of Oakfield House Salvation Army Home, photograph above, (adjacent to the current playing field) was a narrow lane that took you to a locked, manned railway crossing. For a fee, Mr Baldwin, the crossing keeper who lived in the crossing house, would open the gates to allow vehicles through to the fields off Shelford Road. Sitting there naughty kids (not me of course!) ignoring the 40 shilling fine notice if trespassing, put copper pennies on the line to be flattened by hundred ton engines running over them!
Sadly Mr Baldwin died and Mrs Baldwin lived there alone. She was a lovely gentle lady and frequently came in mothers shop. Sadly she gradually developed a serious mental problem. My mate Peter initially started work at Colwick. He lived at the Harlequin and normally walked along the line to Colwick yard. He was walking to work one dark night past the crossing house when Mrs Baldwin, in her demented state, stuck her head out of the line side window and uttered a loud blood curdling scream. I have spoken of Peters vivid imagination before. He was very early for work that night!
The LNER was the London North Eastern Railway. The men were very proud of that and never really accepted British Rail (or the LMS or Central Railway for that matter!) I hope you find this railway piece interesting. You will realise that when I am stood next to a huge steam railway engine gently panting and hissing as if alive I am in another world, sad really!
Take care all of you and look after yourselves. What a blessing it will be when we can all get together again.